We’ve reached the final round of the pool stages of the competition and, after their defeat of the Cheetahs last weekend, the Sharks are pretty much assured of a spot in the quarter finals. It wasn’t the prettiest victory, and while Cheetahs supporters are unhappy with some of the reffing decisions, particularly around the scrum, I also think their players got away with some pretty persistent off the ball niggling, so let’s just call it even. I mean, when have you ever seen Beast lose his temper like that and hit someone?! I’d love to know what provoked him.
This weekend we face the Sunwolves, a team I had high hopes for in their debut season but one that hasn’t really lived up to those expectations. To be fair, it’s early days for them, and rugby is still a growing sport in Japan, so let’s see what they do in the coming years. It would take one hell of an upset for the Sharks to lose to them, and thus lose their spot in the playoffs (assuming the Bulls beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday), but as the Springboks can tell you, anything can happen when it comes to the Japanese.
It’s also a special game because it will be JP Pietersen’s last home game after a decade of playing for the Sharks. I’ve had mixed feelings about him in the past, but all in all, he has contributed a massive amount to Sharks rugby, is our most-capped Super Rugby player, and has scored the most tries for us in the competition, so it is only fitting that he plays his final home game as captain of the side. Gary Gold has made a number of changes to the side, one of which is opting to rest Beast, which I think is a good call considering that he played every game during the international break as well, so he must be starting to take some strain. Jean-Luc du Preez was injured last week, and the talented Mtembu takes his place. Le Roux is still unavailable at halfback, so Smith gets another chance to show us what he’s got, as does April at flyhalf. In a contentious and frankly petty implementation of the rules regarding game time during the regular season, Gold has been forced to select Lambie on the bench, even though he has yet to pass his concussion test, because if he isn’t included in at least four match day 23s, he won’t qualify to play in the quarters next week. Apparently he’s not considered part of the official team, despite having played his rugby exclusively for the Sharks for many years, and indeed, captaining the side. Like I said, petty. Luckily, he only has to be included in the line-up, he doesn’t actually have to play (which makes the rule even more silly), so if he still hasn’t passed a late concussion test before the game, I suppose he can just hang out on the bench, but that means we’re essentially a player short. Here’s hoping he passes that test, for his own health’s sake, and so he can get a little run before next week. If the logs stay as they are, the Sharks will be facing the Lions in the quarters, but with the Lions having selected a substantially diminished side to face the Jaguares in Argentina, that log could change and we could be off to New Zealand to face their top side. Either way, we’ll certainly need Lambie’s level-headed leadership as much as we’ll need his kicking skills and tactical game.
The Sharks team to face the Sunwolves on Friday is:
15. Rhyno Smith, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. JP Pietersen (Captain), 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Garth April, 9. Stefan Ungerer, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Tera Mtembu, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Ruan Botha, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Coenie Oosthuizen, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1. Thomas du Toit
16.Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Stephan Lewies, 20. Jean Deysel, 21., 22.Curwin Bosch/Patrick Lambie, 23. Heimar Williams
My SuperBru picks for round 17 are (all times shown are SA time):
Blues v Waratahs (15 Jul 09:35) Blues by 2
Reds v Rebels (15 Jul 11:40) Reds by 8
Sharks v Sunwolves (15 Jul 19:00) Sharks by 37
Crusaders v Hurricanes (16 Jul 07:15) Crusaders by 5
Highlanders v Chiefs (16 Jul 09:35) Chiefs by 3
Brumbies v Force (16 Jul 11:40) Brumbies by 18
Stormers v Kings (16 Jul 17:05) Stormers by 30
Cheetahs v Bulls (16 Jul 19:10) Cheetahs by 3
Jaguares v Lions (16 Jul 21:10) Jaguares by 3